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ALERT Phase 2 Year 2 Annual Report Available Online! September 29, 2015

ALERT is proud to announce that the Phase 2 Year 2 Annual Report is now available for download online. This report captures the progression of the research conducted in our four thrusts:

  • R1 Characterization & Elimination of Illicit Explosives
  • R2 Trace & Vapor Sensors
  • R3 Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems
  • R4 Video Analytics & Signature Analysis

A full bibliography of publications and presentations conducted under ALERT support follows the individual project reports. Detailed descriptions of the Year 2 activities that took place in our Research and Transition, Education, Strategic Studies, Safety, and Information Protection Programs, as well as the ALERT Phase 2 Overview and Year 2 Highlights, Infrastructure and Evaluation, and Industrial/Practitioner and Government Partnerships can also be accessed in the Annual Report.

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SciX 2015, Presented by FACSS, Preliminary Program is Now Available September 18, 2015

SciX is the annual meeting of the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies (FACSS). The conference represents the future of international scientific exchange in the fields of analytical sciences – comprehensive, intimate, all inclusive.  This is the meeting where all the member societies of FACSS present their newest, most innovative research.

Preliminary Program is now available. For a list of the scheduled sessions, click “Sessions”

SciX 2015 will take place on September 27 – October 2, 2015 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, RI.


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Naval Academy Midshipmen Participate in ALERT Research July 1, 2015

Annapolis Naval Academy Midshipmen, Andrew Kelly and Gabe Lackey, are spending a month this summer doing ALERT research at the University of Rhode Island (URI), in Kingston, RI. Andrew and Gabe are Systems Engineering majors and have elected to use this time to work with the URI Energetic Materials Research Group. Their work includes hands-on experience with a myriad of aspects of explosives research at both the laboratory scale and in the field. Projects include using various instruments for physical characterization of both military explosives and homemade/improvised energetic materials.

Midshipman Lackey (pictured, middle) has said of his experiences,

“It has been very interesting to see the ‘behind the scenes’ process that takes an idea and eventually lets it reach the front lines, helping sailors, marines, and all military men and women.”

Midshipman Kelly (pictured, far right) says of his experiences working with ALERT scientists at URI,

“Working alongside the graduate students under Dr. Oxley has been informative in linking the numerous research areas to future military application, as well as what is currently being used.”

ALERT Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Begins July 1, 2015

This summer, ALERT is hosting 5 undergraduate students who are participating in the 10-week REU program. At Northeastern University, two students are working with Prof. Carey Rappaport, one student is working with Prof. Jose Martinez, and one student is working with John Beaty. ALERT is also hosting a student at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez who is doing research with Prof. Samuel Hernandez.

The ALERT REU program is partnering with other REU programs in the College of Engineering to build a cohort of students who jointly attend professional development meetings and program activities. At the end of the summer each student will give a final presentation on their research project.

ADSA12 Presentations Now Available June 10, 2015

We are pleased to announce that the ADSA12 Workshop presentations are now available for download at the following link:

If you have any questions regarding the topics and technologies discussed at the workshop, please contact Carl Crawford at

Student Spotlight Interview with Yolanda Rodriguez-Vaqueiro April 30, 2015

Yolanda Rodriguez-Vaqueiro, an ALERT Research Assistant, and recent Ph.D. recipient in the Electrical Engineering Program at Northeastern University always knew that she was destined for a career in STEM. “From the very beginning, my brain was a mathematical one. Instead of a left and right brain, I have two left brains. For example, 2 + 2 = 4. There can only be one answer. For me, that is perfect,” stated Rodriguez-Vaqueiro.

During her four year involvement with ALERT, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro’s primary research focus involved “compressive sensing” for standoff detection of security threats using millimeter wave radar. During her ALERT research, Yolanda proposed a new geometrical configuration for a multiple-bistatic, millimeter wave radar imaging system, which could potentially be used for threat detection in outdoor environments.

Under the guidance of advisors Professor Jose Martinez Lorenzo and Professor Carey Rappaport, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro was given the freedom to test out new ideas, and come into her own as a researcher. According to Rodriguez-Vaqueiro, “My capacity to do research has improved significantly. I learned how to take an idea and apply it to the real world, by creating simulations and collecting data from measurements done in the lab. Both Professor Martinez and Professor Rappaport were excellent mentors. I was able to give them my very best work thanks to their guidance. They allowed me a great deal of independence to try new things on my own, while also pushing me to become a better researcher.”

When asked about highlights from her involvement with ALERT, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro stated, “Every time I publish a paper, it’s a huge milestone for me, because you finally have the opportunity to share the results of your research with the public. You may have been working on a project for a long time—six months, or a year, and then you get to write it all down, and make sure that the finished product is at a certain academic level to get published. It’s exciting.” During her time with ALERT, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro was a prolific writer of papers and proposals. She authored, and co-authored a total of fourteen publications (seven journal articles, and seven conference papers), of which she received Best Paper Award at the 2012 IEEE – Homeland Security Technology conference; the Best Propagation Paper Award at the 2014 European Conference on Antennas and Propagation; and most recently, the Burke/Yannas Bioengineering Best Paper Award, which recognizes original research studies in the field of bioengineering at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Burn Association.

Rodriguez-Vaqueiro pointed out that research does not come without challenges however. She stated, “When you’re doing research, every project—every new day presents challenges. For example, every time we get data from the lab, it’s a challenge to decipher that data, and then take that data and turn it into an image for others to understand. I’m a person who enjoys challenges though.”

In addition to her busy role as an ALERT Research Assistant, and doctoral candidate, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro made time to mentor other students. During her time with ALERT, she mentored approximately fifteen undergraduate and high school students engaged in STEM related research. She especially enjoyed mentoring high school students through Young Scholars, a program operated by the Northeastern University Center for STEM Education. “It was very rewarding for me to assist high school students, because they had very little research experience, but were able to obtain meaningful results from scratch. They also learned some basics in coding. It was good for them, and for me.”

“Without a doubt,” claimed her adviser, Professor Jose Martinez Lorenzo, “she is one of the most talented students that I have ever had during my academic career […] She is the Ph.D. student that every faculty member desires in a research group: a student who set example of true leadership. I believe Yolanda will have an outstanding academic development, solving the most important and difficult engineering problems with her unique insight and quick mind.”

Rodriguez-Vaqueiro recently received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. Her thesis was titled, “Compressive Sensing for Electromagnetic Imaging Using Nesterov-Based Algorithm.” She also recently received the ECE Research Impact Award at NEU and accepted a post-doctoral position at the University of Vigo in Pontevedra, Spain where she will continue doing research related to electro-magnetic engineering and security applications.

ALERT-affiliated students and faculty honored at NEU Academic Honors Convocation April 24, 2015

On Thursday, April 23rd, three ALERT-affiliated undergraduate students and two faculty members were honored at Northeastern University’s 2015 Academic Honors Convocation, which celebrates the achievements of community members who have made exceptional strides in ways of research, scholarship, teaching and mentoring in higher education. We hope that you will join us in congratulating the following individuals on their noteworthy accomplishments.

Emma Kaeli, E’18, Chemical Engineering
Emma Kaeli has been named a 2015 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, the most prestigious undergraduate science scholarship in the country. Recipients of this award must demonstrate outstanding potential for and interest in pursuing a career in math, science or engineering research. Emma was involved in the Center as a 2014 Gordon-CenSSIS Scholar, working as a research assistant on breast cancer detection under the mentorship of Thrust 3 Leader Carey Rappaport. She intends to pursue a doctorate degree in material sciences and continue her research in photovoltaic materials for environmental sustainability and human development.

Neel Shah, E’15, Computer Engineering
Neel Shah received the 2015 Harold D. Hodgkinson Award, one of three awarded annually to Northeastern seniors. The Hodgkinson Award is one of the highest honors bestowed upon graduating students, who are nominated by faculty based on academic and experiential performance. Neel has previously been named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar in additional to his work with ALERT as a 2011 Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student with ALERT-affiliated researcher David Kaeli. He was also active as a Gordon-CenSSIS Scholar and mentor. Neel is planning to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School.

Logan Jackson, E’16, Civil Engineering
Logan Jackson is the recipient of the 2015 Robert J. Shillman Award for Engineering Excellence, which recognizes extraordinary academic achievement in the fields of engineering and computer science. Logan was one of four NEU rising seniors awarded this year and is celebrated for her drive, focus and dedication in continuing to demonstrate academic excellence. In 2012, she conducted ALERT research as an REU student with ALERT Phase 1 researcher Mehrdad Sasani. Logan was also a 2012 Gordon Scholar and has mentored other scholars in the years since. She the current president of the Black Engineering Student Society and this year received the President’s Award.


Michael B. Silevitch, Director of ALERT
Simon Pitts, Director of the Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership
Michael Silevitch and Simon Pitts were once again recognized by Northeastern as the recipients of the 2015 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Engineering Education by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). For more information about this award, please visit Bernard Gordon himself was on-hand to congratulate Michael and Simon on this distinction.

Congratulations to our ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars! April 22, 2015

This year, ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS had the honor of hosting 17 freshmen engineering students as participants in the ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars Program.

After two semesters of active involvement in the program — which includes participation in an ALERT or Gordon-CenSSIS research project, K-12 STEM outreach, and Scholar meetings, seminars and activities — they completed the program on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015, when they presented their final research presentations to their faculty advisors and other members of the Scholars community. The final presentations consisted of 2-minute overviews of each Scholar’s research project, addressing their project’s overall mission and activities, their specific contributions to the project, as well as what knowledge and skills they gained.

The ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars Program is designed to provide freshmen engineers with the opportunity to get involved in research and STEM outreach, but also focuses on building their professional development. Throughout the year, Scholars attended seminars on Leadership Skills, Research Ethics, Lab Safety, Power Point Presentation Skills, and Research Poster Building Skills.

2015 Scholars

2014-2015 Scholars [L-R]: Alastair Abrahan, Paul Mykos, Neel Shah, Kasia Gibson, Jack Magrath, Luigi Annese Alizo, Carl Verch, Rachna Igwe, Michael Wong, Madeline Leger, Anthony Bisulco, Benjamin Gincley, Bryant Grey-Stewart, Alyssa Caganda, Chenyang (Eric) Liu, Kevin Wu, Julianne Kloza.

The program also aims to provide Scholars with multiple resources for mentorship and guidance. In addition to their faculty advisor, the program coordinator, and the STEM Center team, each Scholar is assigned a specific Scholar Mentor, who regularly connects with them regarding program-related activities, as well as questions or concerns related to their overall experience at NU. Scholar Mentors are undergraduate engineering students who have previously completed the Scholars program, and who apply to participate in this supporting role. As part of their involvement this spring, the Mentors each gave a presentation to the Scholars on their research, outreach and co-op experiences.

All ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars who successfully complete the program requirements receive an NU Bookstore Voucher of up to $1,000.

The program is hosted and sponsored by the Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence, and the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems (Gordon-CenSSIS), a Graduated National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center.

COE students & industry partners network, make connections at 2015 ASPIRE April 10, 2015

Held on April 7, 2015, the fourth Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event, otherwise known as ASPIRE, successfully brought together two of ALERT’s key components, industrial partners and students of all levels currently involved in center research, as a means of continuing to build strong collaborations and provide networking opportunities. This year’s ASPIRE took place at Northeastern University and included students from six academic partner institutions and representatives from nine industrial collaborators. The 2015 ASPIRE was also the first to feature representation from a government agency, the Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL).

Borne out of a more than fifteen-year-long tradition that ALERT and its predecessor, the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems, has of close collaboration with industry members, ASPIRE’s mission is for industrial partners to introduce their companies, products and needs to one another, to our faculty and to our diverse student population. ASPIRE aligns with the Center’s ongoing efforts to create robust partnerships within our industrial base, while also giving students the opportunity to network as they transition through academia and into the Homeland Security Enterprise.

The 2015 ASPIRE was once again curated by the Center Industrial and Government Liaison Officer, Emel Bulat. Center Director, Michael Silevitch was on-hand to launch the event and welcome the attendees. Industry members gave 8-minute presentations, followed by 2-minute presentations made by students.  ASPIRE was able to expand student participation this year through virtual presentations made by individuals that could not travel to Boston. In the afternoon, students, faculty and industry met face-to-face during a three-hour networking session. The session activities included poster presentations by students, 10-minute roundtable “get-to-know-you” discussions amongst attendees and a closing reception.

It is our hope that connections made at events, such as ASPIRE, will continue to foster alliances within the COE between students, faculty, government and industry. We expect that such collaborations will produce responses to market opportunities, including government solicitations such as Broad Agency Announcements and Request for Proposals, and eventually result in effective technology transfer.

Watch the Latest ALERT 101 January 30, 2015

ALERT is proud to present the third installment of ALERT 101. This chapter’s topic focuses on Methods of Chemical Characterization and Mitigation, and is part 1 of a 2 part series. ALERT Thrust Leaders Jimmie Oxley (Thrust 1) and Steve Beaudoin (Thrust 2) provide commentary about the crucial role of chemical characterization in the mitigation of explosives-related threats, and how ALERT research is helping first responders and security personnel to detect and eliminate threats before they can be used for malicious reasons.

Chemical characterization for the purpose of explosives detection requires ALERT researchers to classify what are explosive materials, and what are not. In the lab, researchers observe how chemicals uniquely react to stimuli, thus determining their chemical properties. For example, Differential Scanning Calorimetry subjects the chemical samples to heat, thus producing a specific reaction that can then be compared to the Explosives Database managed by the University of Rhode Island to determine if the chemical is a volatile substance.

Researchers then leverage these chemical characterizations to develop sensors that detect explosive threats. Trace analysis techniques are used to sense when chemical residues are present on surfaces of or in the air around materials by picking up small quantities of the chemicals when they are in the solid or vapor phases. One such trace method uses a polymer swab developed by Prof. Beaudoin, to sense chemicals in the solid phase on an object’s surface. This swab has individual fingers, similar in design to a toothbrush, with chemical head groups attached to the ends that attract and hold the residue to the finger. ALERT continues to advance the state-of-the-art in both solid and vapor trace technologies through their recently established Trace Explosives Sampling for Security Applications (TESSA) workshops.

As a supplement to this installment, stay tuned for ALERT 101: Basic Properties of Atoms and Molecules, coming this spring!

Inspired by the success of TED ( and other educational media forums, ALERT has developed the ALERT 101 video series. Each video short features different technologies and research areas that the ALERT Center engages in. We hope that these productions help educate and inform the global community on these topics in an accessible and enjoyable way.